In the age of the Internet, a book review can be virtually instant.

The latest instalment in the Harry Potter series, on sale from Saturday in one of the most eagerly anticipated book launches ever, is already under the microscope of speed-reading critics, and opinion is divided.

Within hours of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" hitting the shelves, Harry has been likened to Luke Skywalker from the "Star Wars" films, Henry V and King Arthur, and evil afoot in the plot to recent bomb attacks in London.

Plot summaries are also appearing with what publishers may regard as unseemly haste, forcing readers to settle down and plow through the book's 607 pages of magic and mystery.

The British Broadcasting Corporation's Web site, http://www.bbc.co.uk, featured its own Harry Potter "review blog," with a staff member updating readers on his thoughts even before he reached the end of the hardback tome.

"I've just finished the last few words of the book," he wrote at 5.30 a.m. (0430 GMT), five hours and 30 minutes after the book's official launch.

"In many ways this book has been a mere staging ground for Rowling's final narrative to come," the review continues.

"Too much of the book was either a repeat of what we have seen before, or bogged down by Rowling's attempts to maneuver plot lines and characters into position.

"After a while all magic tricks begin to lose their impact."

Others were more complimentary, some positively gushing, as Rowling fulfilled expectations that she would tackle the dark side of life at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.

"Call out the grief counsellers," wrote Sandra Martin on http://www.theglobeandmail.com. "A very significant character is brutally killed leaving Harry, the orphaned teenage wizard, more alone than ever in his struggle against the forces of Lord Voldemort."

PLOT SPOILERS

Like many others, Martin avoided spoiling the story by giving details of what happens, but plot summaries quickly appeared online and newspapers were expected to run their own.

"I hope I can finish it in the next 48 hours," said Bruce Robinson, a Manhattan resident in his late 30s, as he sat in a cafe inside a Barnes & Noble book store.

"I know one of the tabloids will reveal the ending and I want to finish it before it comes out."

The New York Times ran a lengthy review within hours of the book's release, likening Rowling's achievement to the works of author J.R.R. Tolkien of "Lord of the Rings."

"As the story proceeds ... it grows progressively more somber, eventually becoming positively Miltonian in its darkness," the generally favorable write-up said.

Its main criticism was of Rowling's handling of plot developments needed to set up readers for the seventh and final instalment.

There were even reviews of reviews online Saturday.

"Something makes me wonder what kind of speed-reader they have over there, the review is not only positive but gushes all over HBP," said http://www.canmag.com, commenting on a review.

Several critics drew parallels between the Half-Blood Prince and the recent bomb attacks on London.

The New York Times mentions an "uncanny reminder" that the Hogwarts Express, which Harry and his friends take to school, leaves from King's Cross station, where one of four bombs went off on July 7 in attacks that killed 55.

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